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The Influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on Decision Making in Mary Shelley’s 'Frankenstein'

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In Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’, Victor Frankenstein runs away from his newly animated monster. Appalled by his creation, he collapses into a months-long fever while Henry Clerval takes care of him. This passage takes place during a pivotal part of the novel when Clerval and Frankenstein both spend the summer studying Oriental languages. It is a turning point for Frankenstein as, at that moment, he changes how he views the world. This passage explores how Mary Shelley suggests that Enlightenment ideologies cause misery and loneliness, while Romanticism ideals lead to spiritual uplifting. It discusses tension between the two themes by investigating how the two ideologies can profoundly impact a person’s understanding of the world and the decisions they make.

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Clerval and Frankenstein are two similar yet contrasting characters, as they represent opposing ideologies: Romanticism and Enlightenment. They are foils to each other. Readers can compare how these two ideologies react to world side-by-side. Both Frankenstein and Clerval were born the same way, neither good nor bad intentioned. In the passage, Frankenstein says that “Clerval came to the university with the design of making himself complete master of the Oriental languages” (Shelly, 44), reminding readers that they both started out the same: innocent, enthusiastic youth, fascinated by a passion. Frankenstein then goes on to talk about how “Clerval had never sympathized in his tastes for natural science” (Shelly, 44), implying that their key difference was in their interest. However, as they grow older, Frankenstein’s innocent passion turned into an uncontrollable obsession. In contrast to Frankenstein, Clerval balances his emotional and intellectual pursuits. The effect of these differences were caused by Enlightenment ideologies taking over the rationality of an individual. Clerval balances his emotional and intellectual pursuits –representing Romanticism– while Frankenstein’s obsessions cause him destruction, misery, and disillusionment –representing Enlightenment. Clerval serves as an ideal alternative of how Frankenstein could have controlled his ambitions in a healthy way and kept his sense of innocence. These differences can be seen when Clerval and Frankenstein both travel to Europe. During the trip, Frankenstein isolated himself and thought that “company was irksome” (Shelly, 115). He avoided as many people as possible unless they had information that could help him create the second monster. In contrast, Clerval was very social as he “desired the intercourse of the men… and his mind expanded in the company of men of talent” (Shelly, 114-117). Clerval acts how Frankenstein used to, excited by learning and wanting to meet and talk to everyone. However, due to his pursuit of Enlightenment, Frankenstein isolates himself from society. Through the effects of a Romantic and Enlightened mindset, readers can see how two people who start out the same, end up very differently.

Enlightenment ideologies seem to inflict isolation, sorrow, and misery. Frankenstein’s decisions are so heavily influenced by these ideologies that he embodies Enlightenment ideals. In this excerpt, he says that “he wishes to fly from reflection as he hates his former studies” (Shelly, 44). He later reflects on his decision to study Oriental languages in this passage, expressing that he “felt great relief in being the fellow pupil with my friend” (Shelly, 44). His gratitude for this decision demonstrates how he misses human connection when delving deep in scientific pursuits. When Frankenstein creates his monster, Enlightenment once again is seen to inflict pain and isolation. He focuses so much on the task that “his cheeks had grown pale with study, and his person had become emaciated with confinement” (Shelly, 32). Due to Enlightenment, he sacrificed his moral compass and human nature. Walton is another example of someone who suffers the misteachings of Enlightenment. He writes to Margaret that isolation at sea causes him to “bitterly feel the want of a friend” (Shelly, 4). This shows how the ideologies of Enlightenment can strip people away from the human “desire to have the company of a man” (Shelly, 4). Furthermore, in the context of the Modern Prometheus, fire can be seen as a symbol of knowledge. When the monster eagerly “thrusts his hand into the live embers, he quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain” (Shelly, 72). This metaphor teaches that even though innovation is good, one can get hurt if one pursues knowledge too far.

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The Influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on Decision Making in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. (2022, September 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 29, 2023, from
“The Influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on Decision Making in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.” Edubirdie, 01 Sept. 2022,
The Influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on Decision Making in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 29 May 2023].
The Influence of Romanticism and the Enlightenment on Decision Making in Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Sept 01 [cited 2023 May 29]. Available from:
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